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NOLA Lore: The Casket Girls



Each week, J.A. Lloyd will take readers through the secret and sometimes unexamined legends, myths, and folklore of New Orleans past. For the third installment, Lloyd continues to explore the existence of the vampire with the story of the Casket Girls. 

 

 

They arrived sickly and pale faced. As they stepped off the ship, carrying casket-shaped chests that stored the few belongings in their possession, their skin reddened instantly under the New Orleans sun. Some even blistered; their first exposure to the damp heat. The Frenchmen awaiting their arrival upon the docks were taken aback by the ghastly sight before them.

 

The men began to whisper. “Filles à la cassette,” they murmured, “Vampires.” It was the first time the word had been taken seriously in New Orleans.

 

Filles à la Cassette, also known historically as the Casquette or Casket Girls, first set foot in Louisiana in 1728, initially taking up residency at the Old Ursuline Convent located on Chartres Street. The name derives from the small chests, known as casquettes, that the women brought over their clothes and belongings in to the new world. This wave of women were some of the first brought from France to Louisiana at the appeal of colonists who had settled the area. Their requests were granted by the King of France, and the women were sent with the goal of marrying settlers and populating the city of New Orleans, all expenses for the journey paid for by the Crown.  

 

Sending women in order to further the settlement of new colonies was a common practice for France, starting in the mid-17th century. Being that new colonies were comprised mostly of men — soldiers and priests, mainly  — the fairer of the sexes were used to entice men into staying in and developing new territories rather than returning to their homelands.

 

Women, ranging from ages sixteen to twenty-five, were actively recruited by the government to be sent over to inspire the men in the settlement to increase the population. One of the best and most well-known examples of this practice was the program authorized by Louis XIV commonly referred to as "King’s Daughters." The King’s Daughters was made up of over 800 women that were sent to Canada between 1663 and 1673 as brides to be with the intention of populace development. The women in this initiative were customarily supplied to the colonists by rifling through the streets of Paris or by emptying correctional houses.

 

Unlike the King’s Daughters, the Casket Girls were not pulled from the streets. These women were recruited from religiously affiliated convents and orphanages. Although the women suffered poor upbringings, because of the institutions they came from, they were almost guaranteed to be virgins — an alluring bonus for a colonist and a promising advantage for the lower class unwed women. As ordered by the King of France, the women were handpicked by the Bishop of Quebec, so it appeared as though the men of Louisiana were about to receive quite the prize. Soon after being plucked from the institutions, the women boarded a ship and made the long journey to Louisiana to be matched with a man, wed, and play their part in populating the New Orleans.

 

Unfortunately, the long journey through strange waters below ship deck was only the beginning of the hardships to befall the Filles à la Cassette. Most of the girls ended in marriages unbidden with men not of their own choosing. Many were beaten by their husbands. Those who were unable to promptly wed upon arrival turned to prostitution in order to survive in the new foreign land. It soon became obvious that the program hadn’t turned out the results originally envisioned by the rulers of the new world.

 

News of the women’s quandrary began to make its way back to France. As the situation continued to deteriorate for the Casket Girls, more and more reports flooded into their homeland at an alarming rate. Ultimately the King had heard enough of the mess created in Louisiana and ceased the efforts of the program. He ordered that all the women be returned to France immediately.

 

The girls were swiftly sent off, allegedly leaving behind their casquettes and belongings at the Ursuline Convent, at which they were originally received upon their arrival to New Orleans to await their forthcoming marriages. It is said that the nuns carried the chests up the stairs to the 3rd floor and locked the lingering chests away as they, too, had their superstitious uncertainties about the strange, pale women sent by the King.  Shortly after the stir of the Casket Girls’ withdrawal, the nuns returned to the 3rd floor where they found that the contents of the chests had gone missing. Worried that the girls had played some part in the theft, the nuns sealed off the 3rd floor to ensure that nothing would ever be able to leave or enter the floor again. With nails blessed by the Pope the nuns bolted the doors and windows deeming the floor condemned by malevolent forces ferried into the city by Filles à la Cassette. Some believe that the doors and windows of the 3rd floor still remain sealed shut to contain the dark nature that remains in the caskets the women left behind.

 

Upon the women’s hasty departure rumors, again, began to crackle amongst the locals. Only, this time, the gossips caught fire and spread throughout the city. Vampires had infiltrated the city. Some believe the women themselves were vampires. Others believe it was not clothes the women carried in their casket chests, but instead the caskets were responsible for bringing the creatures into the city. Before the women’s arrival to New Orleans, there was little to no speak of the vampires in the region. It was Filles à la Cassette who sparked the inception of the myth.

 

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Contributors

Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

Photographers


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.

Editor


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt


B. E. Mintz


Stephen Babcock

Published Daily